Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Dan Erickson.
I grew up poor. My family had little money. My dad was the pastor of a small-town church and my mom was a stay-home mom. We didn’t go hungry, but we didn’t have an abundance either. I remember wearing hand-me-downs and relying on the government food bank.
Later, as a young adult, I worked in fast food and retail. I lived in trailers and studio apartments. I walked and rode a bike as my primary modes of transportation. Although my life wasn’t bad, I thought I was missing something. There had to be more.
So at the age of 30, I went back to school and earned a few degrees. I started making more money. I started buying more stuff. Life was good. A 2000-square-foot house and three cars in the driveway was living proof. Or so I thought.
But sometimes the dream is an illusion. The more stuff I bought, the more tied down I became.
With more purchases comes more responsibility. A big house, three cars, and expensive furnishings come with a price and that price is more than money. It includes your time, your energy, even your heart and soul.
Surprisingly, the bigger my paycheck, the deeper my debt became. The deeper the debt, the more time I spent working. That meant less time for my loved ones, my friends, and my hobbies. After years of upward mobility, I began to realize accumulation wasn’t the answer either.
I found myself beginning to long for simplicity. But also rejecting the notion of extremes.
On one hand, we have the unintentional consumer. Those pursuing happiness in the conspicuous consumption offered to them by their upward mobility. They rarely, if ever, question their buying habits. They desire bigger houses, faster cars, fancier furnishings, and all the comforts, luxuries, and entertainment that money can buy.
They love to tell you about their latest conquests in the material world. They live to impress through their stuff. They’re willing to work harder to get more. Often times, at the expense of their time and relationships.
On the other hand, you have complete austerity. Sometimes, in an effort to discover happiness, we overdue minimalism. We disregard simple comforts. Or we view possessions or riches as inherently evil. This way of life may be less common in our consumer-based society. But I can tell you from personal experience, it is also not the fast train to happiness.
Minimalism, at its best, is about finding what’s best for you. It’s about asking before you buy, asking before you give away, choosing to dedicate your time and money to the things that matter most, and eliminating the distraction of clutter.
To better decipher if it’s time to let something go, here are five questions:
How long has the thing gone unused? When it comes to material stuff, we tend to hold onto things after they’ve served their purpose. Most generally, if something hasn’t been used in six months, it will probably never be needed again. There are some exceptions for seasonal items, but this question is a good place to start.
Does the item create stress? It might not be possible to eliminate all stress from our lives, but letting go of certain things can greatly reduce your stress levels. If you keep banging your shin on the coffee table, let it go. If the thought of cleaning out your basement causes anxiety, it probably means you should.
Would your life be simpler without it? Everything we own costs money and takes up time or space. Life is infinitely simpler with less. So be honest with yourself and you might find that you’d be better off by letting go of things that hinder your finances, space, or time.
Are you holding onto something just because you think you should? Often we keep sentimental items because we think we have to. Or we stay in unhealthy relationships because we don’t want to hurt the other person. There are times we need to put ourselves first.
Could someone else use it more than you? I go through my belongings several times a year. When I find things I no longer need, I consider others who might need the item. If I know someone personally, I’ll ask them. Otherwise, I donate my stuff to a local charity. This helps you to declutter and you help others at the same time.
The easiest way to let things go is to understand that nothing we own makes us who we are. Be critical of how much you really need. In that balance, you’ll remain more at peace with your decisions in the long run.
Dan Erickson blogs at Hip Diggs as an advocate of minimalism, small living, and self-sufficiency.